A helicopter hovers over the Lee Adjustment Center after inmates at the prison set three buildings on fire Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2004, in Beattyville, Ky.
Photo credit: AP Photo/The Herald-Leader, David Stephenson
A privately operated prison in eastern Kentucky was under a security clamp Wednesday and inmates were doubled up in cells, a day after prisoners torched three buildings during an uprising.
The medium-security Lee Adjustment Center at Beattyville was on ``lockdown'' following a disturbance that erupted as inmates milled around a recreation yard Tuesday night.
It took about three hours for prison officials to restore order.
Beattyville Police Chief Steve Mays said smoke was billowing and inmates were yelling and throwing rocks at a Kentucky State Police trooper when Mays arrived to provide backup.
``It was chaos when I first got up there,'' Mays said Wednesday.
Prison officers quelled the uprising while police agencies from nearby counties provided backup outside and guarded against escapes.
Two inmates were treated for severe cuts to their fingers, prison officials said. No prison workers were injured, officials said.
The prison is owned and run by Corrections Corporation of America, based in Nashville, Tenn. It houses about 800 men _ half from Kentucky and the rest from Vermont _ under a contract between that state and CCA.
CCA dispatched about 30 specially trained correctional officers to bolster security at the prison, company spokeswoman Louise Chickering said in a phone interview. State police and CCA officials were interviewing inmates who were in the recreation yards when the uprising began.
``The situation is very controlled, it is calm,'' Chickering said. ``We are working as expeditiously as we can to resume normal operations.''
The disturbance flared up about 7:15 p.m. EDT Tuesday during a regular recreation period for inmates, Chickering said. At the time, up to 150 prisoners were in the outside recreation yard.
Prisoners set fire to two dormitories and an administrative building.
Smoke and water damaged the administrative building and a dorm housing about 325 inmates, Chickering said. Both buildings were closed Wednesday.
Inmates also broke windows and light fixtures in the dorm and damaged toilets and sinks, Chickering said. Prisoners from the dorm were assigned to double up with other prisoners, she said. The administrative building sustained an undetermined amount of damage inside, she said.
The fire in the other dorm was contained quickly, and the dorm was reopened to inmates, she said.
Officials suspect that the fires were started by matches, she said. Smoking is permitted at designated outdoor areas on the prison grounds.
Meanwhile, prison and law enforcement officials on Wednesday targeted nine inmates as suspected instigators and said the nine could face arson and other charges.
The uprising apparently started when the nine, from both states, tried unsuccessfully to tear down a manned, wooden guard tower in the recreation yard, prison officials said.
Other inmates joined in and the fires were set.
Chickering said it was unclear how many inmates were involved, but no one tried to escape. Afterward, eight inmates were seen by corrections medical staff, including the two inmates who had cuts.
Mays, the police chief, said prison authorities did a good job defusing the disturbance. ``People around here always worry about it because in the back of their minds they know there's bad guys in prison and if one gets out, they're in our community,'' he said.
Until the uprising, the worst incidents at the prison had been walkaways when it was a minimum-security facility, Mays said.
The uprising was the latest to plague CCA, the nation's largest operator of private prisons.
Riots broke out this past July at CCA prisons in Colorado and Mississippi.
Ken Kopczynski of Private Corrections Institute Inc., a group opposed to private prisons, said such prisons are understaffed and have high turnover, leading to inexperienced guards.
``What that does is it leads to more abuse and more safety-related issues because they don't know what's going on,'' Kopczynski said.
He said locking up people hundreds of miles from families _ such as the Vermont inmates _ ``doesn't help the situation.''
Vermont inmates have been housed at the Kentucky prison since this year to help ease overcrowding in Vermont facilities.
Chickering said the recent uprisings were ``highly unfortunate'' but are ``a very real part of the corrections industry.''
``Every corrections system has incidents,'' she said. ``We remain highly confident in our experience to effectively manage inmates.''
Kentucky pays CCA $38.44 per day for each inmate at the Lee Adjustment Center, said Lisa Lamb, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Corrections. The contract was last renewed in November 2003 and expires in May 2005.
CCA runs one other Kentucky prison under contract with the state _ the minimum-security Marion Adjustment Center in central Kentucky.